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Common Law and Equity

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The Development of Common Law and Equity

Common Law has been functioning in England since the 1250’s, two centuries after William the Conqueror defeated Earl Harold Godwinson in the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and became King. It was then in 1066 that Law began to be standardised. There were, however, problems with the Common Law system and people were becoming dissatisfied with the remedies distributed by the Court. As a result, the Court of Chancery was established and could provide whatever remedy best suited the case. This type of justice became known as equity.

When William the Conqueror gained the English throne in 1066, he constituted the Curia Regis, an instrument he used to govern the country and a court for deciding disputes. Representatives from the Regis were sent out to the different localities of the country to check local administration and were ordered to make judgement of the effectiveness of the custom laws functioning in their designated locality and report back to the King in Westminster. When the representatives were summoned back, they were able to discuss the various customs of each locality and were able to form, through rejecting unreasonable laws and accepting those that appeared to be rational, a consistent body of rules. During the process of sifting, the principle of ‘stare decisis’ was created, which translates to ‘let the decision stand’. Whenever a new problem of law was to be decided, the decision formed a rule and it was mandatory that the rule was followed in all similar cases. By 1250, a common law had been established, that ruled the whole country.

However problems soon arose regarding the remedies distributed by the Common Law Court and people soon became dissatisfied with the system. One of the first complaints was concerned with the writ system. In the common law courts, civil actions had to be started by a writ. Early on, new writs were created to suit new circumstances, however this stopped in the thirteenth...